WarningMight contain spoilers.

The season begins with a lot of preparation and immediately transitions into top-notch tension and suspense. Nacho’s doom unfolds at a measured pace, with a sense of inevitability accompanying his every moment. His intentionally melodramatic and clichéd final speech and his derision towards the chicken man rob his death of some of its pathos, but the phone call with his father is heartbreaking.

It’s hard to watch Jimmy fully slip and Kim fall with him as they bring about the assassination of Howard Hamlin, character and body. Jimmy’s quietly dejected reaction to Kim silencing the hilarious Betsy and Craig with her cold threats and lack of empathy is especially sad: he knows he helped create this monster and feels mostly regret as he ploughs ahead on the only path he sees. He never makes his peace with her giving free rein to the darkness she usually restrains.

And then there’s poor Howard himself. On another show, he might have been the protagonist. Here, Jimmy mentions in the first episode that he’s going after someone else first, but that’s just before he plants the drugs in Howard’s locker, inexorably nudging him towards oblivion. The tricks they play on him are all too clever and effective. Cliff showing he genuinely cares about Howard’s well-being[1] makes it all the more painful. Even though the cut to the candle flickering a second time in the apartment to signal Lalo’s entry is amateurish and Jimmy and Kim’s shellshocked reactions are unconvincing, the sheer tragedy of Howard being in exactly the wrong place at the wrong time is unmistakable.

Lalo returning, bent on vengeance, infuses a sublime performance with new nuance and range. He’s a man on a mission, and Tony Dalton effortlessly conveys that change simply by shedding a layer of charm. His continual quick changes of expression are unbelievably sinister. His absence from a few of the early episodes only increases the anticipation, and the scene where he realizes Gus is eavesdropping on the phone is masterfully constructed.

One of the most taut and thrilling sequences is the return of Mrs. Ryman in ‘Black and Blue’, a few scenes after Lalo inveigles his way into her good graces by unleashing his charm while barely moving a muscle: I hardly dared to breathe throughout those five minutes, and it’s both a relief and hard to believe that it ends without him even hurting the dog. The whole thing is masterpiece of storytelling.

It’s a testament to the greatness of the show that Lalo himself tugs at the heart as he gently laughs, blood spurting out of his mouth, before the life fades from his eyes. The point about him being undone just as he undid Howard is emphasized with their double grave. Kudos to Gus for outmanœuvring him to such an extent, and to Giancarlo Esposito for that defiant monologue. It helps that the music in ‘Fun and Games’ soars to new heights: the tense, pounding rhythms as Mike springs into action; the gentle tones around Gus and Lalo, calling to mind ‘The Devil’s Walk’ by Apparat as used in Breaking Bad; and the string piece as the grave is covered at the end.

One thing I particularly appreciate is Mike seeing exactly how Jimmy and Kim’s choices killed Howard. I also like him standing up to Gus over the idea of involving Nacho’s father, Manuel. From Whatever happens in the next few seconds, it ain’t gonna go down like you think to how his expression changes when he realizes they aren’t backing down and the way he closes the door and plants himself in front of it, it’s nice to see him draw the line somewhere. For all his attempts to maintain a code of honour, this season never loses sight of the fact that Mike is an enforcer who helps send young people to early graves and has no small amount of blood on his hands. His relationship with Nacho is complex; Manuel is justified in his contempt for Mike and the cartel.

I always enjoy seeing Gus at Los Pollos Hermanos. There’s something about the fast food machines and the way he handles them in his false persona. The food is probably trash, but I have to admit watching it fry makes my mouth water. On a different note, his melancholy attempt to connect with David at the bar after vanquishing Lalo—following a superb scene with Don Eladio—is a compelling digression. I must also commend Giancarlo Esposito for his competent, though unremarkable, turn in the director’s chair on ‘Axe and Grind’.

I’m sorry to say Rhea Seehorn’s attempt, ‘Hit and Run’, stands out like a sore thumb. I’m reluctant to pin the blame on her, but the characters don’t seem like themselves, the soundtrack is inappropriate, it relies too much on POV shots, and it lacks the hallmark sinister edge and methodical pacing. Something certainly went awry on that one.

In fairness, this set of episodes is very slightly uneven, and there are a few uncharacteristic moments. Gus leaving the meeting with Hector to announce over the phone that Lalo Salamanca lives is unusually melodramatic. Nacho’s drug addict girlfriend in the same episode is a little amateurish. Jimmy and Kim initiating sex as the settlement is relayed over the phone is also surprisingly tawdry. Their reactions to Howard’s death are unconvincing, as I mentioned earlier, although that doesn’t take away from the overwhelming bleakness and intensity of the following episode.

One of the most heartwrenching moments on a season of consequences is Kim realizing what she’s become and ending things with Jimmy, while her entire being cries out to stop her. Her choked lines about having too much fun are among Rhea Seehorn’s best work. It’s a relief to see Kim step back from the abyss: watching her sell her soul because she knows everyone will believe her as they wouldn’t Jimmy is almost too much to bear. It’s cathartic when she reveals the truth to Howard’s wife after having imprisoned herself in the humdrum suburban nightmare of her new life.

Interestingly, I found myself thinking more than once that Jimmy almost resembled a supporting character on his own show, but only briefly. After all, this story is about his transformation. His quick-witted deceptions, his fascinated horror at what he’s molding Kim into, his complete abandonment of his conscience once she leaves, its sudden return when he finds himself unable to hurt Marion after all, and his antics around having his sentence reduced only to confess in the end—every last bit of it is mesmerizing and real, enough to make one root for him again and again before recalling who he is and what he’s doing.

That’s the magic of Jimmy. That’s the magic of Saul. They’ve always been the same person, yet the sheer charm he brings to bear is enough to hide that. The splash of colour in his glasses as he watches the Saul Goodman video is an iconic image. The contrast between Jimmy in the past and Jimmy in the future in ‘Breaking Bad’ hammers home the parallels between his poor choices then and now. The call with Francesca is a thing of beauty (and so is her call to H.H.M.).

‘Nippy’ almost feels like a different show with its new setting. This is where some of the lighter moments live, all the more hilarious for the inapproprate times at which they appear. The most memorable for me are: Jeff’s fall on the mall camera, Frank clarifying that he hasn’t felt as worthless as Gene claims to have but lots of people do, a panicked Jeff driving into another car as the cops eat fish tacos, and Bill failing to escape Jimmy’s antics even right at the end. And then there’s Saul revealing his web of mutually-assured destruction to Jeff and Ricky, with the sad little addendum that they’re not friends.

I mustn’t forget to express my admiration for Carol Burnett’s perfect performance as Marion. I’m glad she isn’t portrayed as an old idiot: although she has her reasons for not getting involved with her son’s misadventures, she’s shrewd, observant, and capable. The three words I trusted you suffice to rip one’s heart in two.

The glimpses of Walter and Jesse are just right, following all the more subtle hints at future events. It feels as if no time has elapsed since Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul last played these characters. Jesse encountering Kim and asking about Saul carries a great deal of meaning and import. Walter’s lack of patience with Saul’s time machine nonsense is enjoyable, as is everyone’s disbelief when Jimmy refuses to admit any real regrets.

And then there’s the finale. It’s a good episode with substantive inclusions—even the return of Marie Schrader—but above all, it’s poignant, reflective, and somewhat surreal, especially the convicts chanting Saul’s slogan on the bus. It’s nice to get one more look at Mike, and to see Chuck again as well; I suppose the lighting was deliberately dark to hide Michael McKean’s changed looks, but it adds to the effect.

Everything builds to that last scene of Kim visiting Jimmy. While it fails to have the impact of ‘Baby Blue’ playing over the ending of Breaking Bad, none can deny the beauty of the music, the visuals, and the atmosphere as the two of them share a cigarette in the light from the window.

The season overall has a few disappointing episodes and I preferred the previous one, but that means something different on a show like this. Seven years and six precious seasons later, there’s just nothing else like Better Call Saul. Farewell, dear friend. You are and were, now and always, a triumph of storytelling.

  1. Making his son an addict is a smart choice.